Category Archives: Material and Tool Information

Information about mosaic materials and tools.

Mr Pinchapotamus Tile Holding Tool with adjustable depth setting

Your New Best Friend Mr. Pinchapotamus

Mr. Pinchapotamus is your new best friend. He holds small glass tile while you cut them with a Mosaic Glass Cutter so that your fingertips aren’t near the blades. He can also hold the tile more firmly in place than your fingertips, and so Mr. Pinchapotamus also improves the precision of your cuts.

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Mosaic Tile Studio Display Jars group photo with 8mm Morjo glass

Out of Site, Out of Mind

I have always transferred my glass tile from the plastic factory bags used for shipment and into glass jars or plastic tubs. I do that for several reasons:

Rigid containers like recycled jars and plastic yogurt containers make it easier to rinse out the glass dust and slivers formed by cutting. Torn plastic bags drip water and don’t dry easily.

Glass jars and open-top tubs also make it easier to see the true color of the tiles, which is difficult when viewed through scratched and dirty plastic.

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Cleaved Glass-Tile Mosaics

Cleaved-Tile As Smalti Alternative

If you like the cut-face look of smalti but don’t like the price, remember that you can cut recycled glass tiles in half and mount them on edge to get the same look and feel as smalti.

Since your “halves” of tile won’t be perfect halves, they will all be slightly different heights when turned on edge. The surface formed by these tiles make can’t help but have an interesting texture.

The slightly uneven surface emphasizes the tiles as individual pieces, and the mosaic “effect” of the image is enhanced:

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Broken Millefiori Bouquet Mosaic Coaster Before Grouting.

Broken Millefiori Mosaic Coaster

I made a mosaic bouquet coaster using our Broken Millefiori and Morjo 12mm Recycled Glass Tile. I used clear contact paper to lay out my design so that I could improvise without a pattern and make revisions as desired BEFORE glue is involved.

I wrapped the contact paper around the backer temporarily so that the design I laid out would be the exact same size as the backer.

I could have just traced the outline of the coaster on a piece of paper and taped the contact paper over the square outline.

Either way, the sticky side of the clear contact paper has to be showing because that is what is going to provide the little bit of stickiness required to keep the tiles from sliding around.

How Clear Contact Paper Is Used To Lay Up A Mosaic Design.
How Clear Contact Paper Is Used To Lay Up A Mosaic Design. Option 2 is probably more effort than required. If you don’t have a pattern drawn on your backer, all Option 2 does is make sure the mosaic is the same size as the backer.
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mosaic-restoration-project-finished

Marble Mosaic Restoration Project

At the end of 2019 Mosaic Art Supply was e-mailed by a local homeowner about repairing a stone mosaic that was being displayed outdoors.

The design of the mosaic is a smaller-scale interpretation of the “Tree of Life” mosaic found in the bath of Hisham’s Palace in eastern Palestine. The palace dates to the 700s and today is considered one of the most important examples of Islamic architecture in Palestine. This particular mosaic was most likely made in the 1990’s.

Natalija Moss writes up the process she and Angela Bortone performed to restore the mosaic:

Initial Conditions

The mosaic measures approximately 4 feet by 4 feet. It was suffering from water damage. The backer was disintegrating, tiles were popping off, and the surface of the mosaic was beginning to warp and wrinkle. The steel frame around the mosaic was thoroughly rusted, with holes in some places. The edge of the mosaic was stained with rust in several places.

missing-mosaic-tiles
Detail of initial conditions before restoration work. There are stains along the edge of the mosaic and multiple spots where tiles are missing. The photos don’t show it well, but the center of the tree was becoming as wavy as the backer deteriorated beneath it.

I felt like the mosaic was repairable, but I would need some help. I contacted local muralist Angela Bortone, who used to work at Mosaic Art Supply, and together we decided we would tackle the restoration.

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Stone Mosaic Backsplash before grouting cropped

Grout Color for Stone Backsplash

Randy Evans emailed me a photo of his stone mosaic backsplash and asked for advice in choosing a grout color.

Even though this project isn’t figurative mosaic, and the grout gaps have the width of masonry joints (much larger than the gaps recommended for small glass mosaic tiles), it still makes a good teaching example about how to choose a grout color for your own mosaic for these reasons.

  1. Randy worked through the decision in a thorough way using basic methods BEFORE testing colors in hidden places in the backsplash.
  2. Randy took some good photos of his experiments, plus one of the installation as a whole that shows the importance of hue in making a backsplash work with the room’s color scheme.

You could use the same approach for picking out the color mortar you wanted to use for a stone or masonry surface.

TIP: You can minimize the color impact of grouting glass mosaic by using smaller grout gaps. It also makes grouting easier. Highly recommended.

CAUTION: A grout gap is needed in architectural mosaics because the grout is needed to seal out water, which can’t be sealed out merely by making the tiles touch each other.

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Mosaic Street-Number Sign by artist Monika Walter damaged

Warning: Marine Plywood Not For Mosaic

Marine plywood cannot be used as a mosaic backer for outdoor and wet mosaic.

Yes, marine plywood can withstand the outdoors and wet days for many years, but it is completely unacceptable as a mosaic backer because it swells and contracts with changes in humidity in the outside air. That amount of swelling and contracting is tiny and might not be significant in construction projects, but it is fatal for mosaic. Absolutely fatal. It’s only a matter of time, and it’s usually not long.

People recommending the use of marine plywood as a backer for outdoor mosaics are not considering one critical detail:

The swelling and contracting of wood due to humidity isn’t trivial where adhesives are concerned, and the displacement (movement) can be measured. Imagine rainy days versus dry days. The displacement is more than enough to work glass free from adhesive because the glass isn’t swelling or contracting at all.

This is not speculation. I am an engineer and have worked in a materials testing lab.

Another piece of evidence I could bring to any argument about the use of marine plywood in mosaic is that I have received photos of tragically-damaged mosaics for 17 years, and marine plywood wins hands down as far as being the worst cause of grief, and the reason is simple:

Marine plywood SEEMS like a solid safe option because contractors will talk about the life they have gotten from it on certain jobs, and so the people who make the mistake of choosing it tend to be people who are making a design with a lot of work and care for the details. They took the time to choose a “good” backer because they knew they were going to put a lot of effort into their mosaic.

Seeing these mosaics damaged is much more painful than seeing some hasty work falling apart because the technical details were just outright neglected.

That brings me to an email I received from Monika Walter.

Artist Monika Walter

Monika Walter says she doesn’t consider herself to be an “artist,” but she has some solid work at her mosaic website, and she makes tables and mirrors and clocks for craft shows. They all look well-executed to me, and a couple of her mosaics make me jealous. More about that later.

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Mosaic Coaster with Scratched Tile by artist Stefi Morrison, detail shot

When To Use Sanded Grout

This article is about why we recommend “the opposite” of what the tile industry recommends for grouting glass mosaics and mosaics with a standard grout gap. This article also explains how to avoid scratching the glass tile while grouting with sanded grout.

Industry Recommendations

The tile industry recommends using sanded grout for gaps 1/8 to 3/8 inch and adding a coarser grade of sand for gaps larger than 3/8 inch. For gaps less than 1/8 inch, which is what mosaic glass mosaics have, tile manufacturers and industry associations recommend using non-sanded grout.

At Mosaic Art Supply, I have always recommended using sanded grout for everything except mosaics with hairline gaps between the tile. Why the difference? There are three reasons.

Plaques not Walls

Many of our customers are making mosaics on small movable surfaces like plaques or tabletops not walls or floors, and these smaller mosaics are subject to being dropped and impacted and vibrated and flexed more than an architectural surface. The sand provides tensile strength and helps the grout not be knocked out of the gaps as easily.

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Crucifix Installed in Niche in Altarpiece by artist Nicholas Vasko

Imitation Gold Glass for Altarpieces and Icons

Religious icons make heavy use of gold leaf glass to represent halos and divine light but also to adorn the figures and to communicate the preciousness of the image. Of course we carry 24 kt Gold Leaf Glass for use in icons and other mosaics, but the material is expensive for obvious reasons, and so the question becomes what do you use when you need to make something larger, such as an altarpiece or a life-size icon?

The answer is the silver-foil glass product known as Imitation Gold Mosaic Glass, which has an epoxy coating over the silver backing to prevent oxidation and blackening by adhesives.

Artist Nicholas Vasco emailed us some pictures of a couple of his recent projects using Imitation Gold Glass, and they are impressive. Both the altarpiece and the mosaic inserts of the chapel entrance way are very well done and worth talking about for several reasons.

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Pelicans mosaic by artists Carl and Sandra Bryant.

Alternatives to Marble Mosaic

Many people are drawn to the idea of making mosaics from marble and stone, mostly because that was the material used by the ancient Romans but also because they would like to make a mosaic from natural materials in subdued colors.

Nevertheless, as soon as these people start trying to source materials, they quickly become frustrated with how limited the color palette is in marble mosaic, and they usually end up mixing the stone with smalti or ceramic or porcelain tiles, or they use dyed stone or synthetic stone for certain colors.

In either case, the mosaic usually doesn’t have the look and feel that was desired, which is really a tragedy because superior results could have been more easily and cheaply accomplished had the artist used all glass and merely restricted the color palette to more subtle hues.

Before you convince yourself you need to work in stone, spend some time looking at glass mosaics made from subdued color pallets.

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